Saturday morning in Buenos Aires

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I could have taken the Subte over to San Martin plaza and the little park with its enormous sprawling tree, limbs so huge and meandering that they built iron crutches into the plaza to hold the splayed branches up – and just through the park across busy Avenida del Libertador you have that huge tower that’s a replica of the one in piazza San Marco in Venice (many things in Buenos Aires are a replica of something in Europe) – – I could have taken the Subte, but the weather was fine, clean-feeling air and bright sun and jewel blue sky, warm and breezy, so I walked down to Florida street to change money on the “blue” market (the street empty so early in the morning, and me getting a terrible rate of only 12 pesos to the dollar this time) and from there along San Martin street all the way to the park.

The beautiful fractal-pattern trees with their bare earth-colored trunks and vibrant purple flowers frame a plaza of Buenos Aires’ ubiquitous cool white tiles gridded into perfect squares. When the tiles break from impact or age or tree roots thrusting up under the sidewalk, they subdivide into smaller and smaller squares. The trees in this plaza (called jacaranda, I learn later on a tour) are lovely and give good shade to the soft, broad-leaved, slightly squeaky grass. After a few false starts in mosquito-ridden patches of grass near the center of the park, I find an old tree on the edge whose broad roots bend gently into a natural seat. Two huge roots extend like arms into the grass, forming a hollow where I stash my purse and shoes and stand with my feet in the cold grass and start my first sun salutation.

Traditional ashtanga sun salutations timed to my breath, with some warrior poses thrown in between downward dogs to help me warm up. I need to stretch my legs after all the walking yesterday – downward dog for my hamstrings and hips, and I wriggle luxuriously to loosen my IT bands and ankles; warrior one for energy; warrior two for stability; and I’m feeling brave and unselfconscious in this park so I go for warrior three, balancing for about five breaths and using the San Marco tower as my focal point. Afterwards – pigeon poses, which are fun to do while watching actual pigeons poke around the grass, and cowface pose, which I love for its ridiculous name and deep hip stretch.

I won’t pretend it’s not awkward to go to a park where no one else is doing anything remotely like yoga, alone in tight leggings and a travel-stained top, and contort your body into strange awkward positions and try to look like a wise guru and hope no one else in the park is watching when it’s time to stick your butt in the air for downward dog. I usually feel exposed, especially if there are men watching. (There are almost always men watching. I’m a woman out alone and not wearing a nun’s habit. I try to avoid eye contact so I don’t have to see their lewd grins or hear their oh-so-original comments about flexibility). On the other hand, I’m also probably making it more awkward than it needs to be – I could pay for a class in a studio or convince someone from the hostel to come to the park with me.

Today I don’t feel so self conscious or exposed and I make some mental notes on this park, planning to come back. Not a lot of people like yoga, and the number of people who like yoga and also stay in hostels and also don’t care how many creepy park dudes watch them try to balance on one foot or stick their butts in the air in a park is even smaller, but I’m putting this one on the shortlist of places to do yoga anyway and promise myself to invite someone next time. At the end of my asanas I sit and mediate a little in the fresh grass (purse in my lap, just in case). The light has shifted and now it’s hot. Warm air stirs in the plaza, a guy throws tennis balls for his dogs to chase (a really fat golden lab and a sleeker black mutt), and I see two friends meet and surreptitiously light a joint to share. Yoga is over and I’m awake and hungry new, so I take the Subte back toward San Telmo with a few other early morning porteños still waking up this Saturday.

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